| John's Spectacular S-Ridge Finale!
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I have a deal with my wife regarding climbing, well, really its more like a shared custody agreement. She gets me during the week and every other weekend, then the mountains get me on the weekends she doesn't. It works well. This weekend was supposed to be my weekend at home, but when I got the text from John asking me to join him for his finisher on Snowmass via the S-Ridge I immediately plead the case to my wife for an exemption, and got it. I excitedly started planning for the climb. I had climbed Snowmass from the other side the year before, but the S-Ridge was high on my short list for ridges to climb.
While researching trip reports, I was lucky enough to find the one on 14ers.com by PKR that gave the best details and route description photos I had seen on this route. In fact, it got printed by a couple of us and stuck in our packs for reference.
The plan was for Jason, Kelly, Jesse and I to meet in Denver and drive up Friday afternoon, while John, Dima and the others would ride up a bit earlier. We arrived at the bottom of the 4-Wheel drive road in the dark, and made out way of the longer route that winds upwards, and bypasses the town of Crystal. This road in the dark was not comforting at all, and helped me discover that a stomach issue that had been quietly rumbling all day was not going to be getting any better on the drive in.
We found the trailhead at about 1030, and I immediately ran to complete what would become a ritual that would plague me for the remainder of the trip. We eventually found where John and Dima were camping and came up with a wake up time of 3am, which came quickly.
We woke up after 4 hours of sleep, and I was not at all optimistic. I had gone to sleep hoping my stomach issues would subside over night, but they hadn't but I was really driven to at least give it a shot. We all threw on our packs and headed out at what started with a very rapid pace in the warm morning air. The trail begins with a gentle slope, but gradually steepens as it switchbacks towards Geneva Lake. I was slowing down as my issues got worse, and told the others that they could go ahead because I did not want to hold people back and cost them the summit. Come to find out I was not the only one not feeling so hot, and we broke into smaller hiking groups based on relative speed at that point, most of which was being driven by our physical sensations.
We continued up the trail, and initially missed the sign for camp 4, and had to backtrack to find it. We pushed on through the growing predawn light, and found ourselves at Little Gem Lake, sitting still, reflecting the jagged ridge of Siberia Peak looming above.
Reflections of the Siberia Peak Reidge in Little Gem Lake
Looking out across the valley
Jason, John and Dima discussing route options
Dima working his way across the large boulders to reach the bottom of the entrance gully - Photo by John
John taking photos at the bottom of the gully
After a quick break, we moved on, accidentally following the West Face slope around and adding some un-necessary distance to the approach. After a brief consult, we were on our way to the base of the entrance gully, and to our amazement another group who had been behind us was starting up… they took the correct route.
After a quick break and realized quickly that we needed to helmet up as the repeated call of 'rock' accompanied by a choir of clattering rocks came from above. John and Dima made the decision to try and pass the group that was knocking debris loose, however Jesse, Kelly and I struggled to get around them.
me with a super wedgie getting ready to start up the gully - photo by Jesse
Looking down the gully - photo by Kelly
Jason and Kelly coming up out of the entrance gully, she downclimbed to help with a couple of interesting loose spots
My recommendation for this part of the climb, do not weight anything you do not check, and if it is not solid don't push it off! If you are careful, you can climb this without knocking any rocks loose. If you knock a rock loose, it will probably not stop until it either hits a climber below you or the bottom of the gully. This is definitely a place to engage in mindful climbing.
At the point we reached the top of the gully, Paul and Andy were out of sight, and it made sense to break into smaller climbing groups. John and Dima headed up, while Kelly, Jason, Jesse and I went a bit slower as not all of us were feeling tip top. I was however feeling the ridge once we got going. It is completely possible to reduce the exposure, and keep it class 3 by dropping off the ridge to climbers left anytime you find yourself in difficult terrain, but why? The rock off the ridge was obviously loose, and it looked terrible.
Staying on the ridge definitely requires periodic class 4 moves on the lower 3rd of the climb, but it is on very solid rock. Jason dropped off to the less exposed area a couple of times, but it really seemed to slow him down, as it was not good rock. When we approached the blade rock, where we had seen a large number of people opt to take the face instead of the ridge, we stuck to the ridge. Again, the exposure was definitely there in a few spots, but we moved much faster.
John heading up towards the start of the scrambing - photo by Dima
Kelly and Jason working their way through the first exposed section of the ridge
Me and Jason coming up the ridge below the blade rock - photo by Jesse
Jesse on some super slabby rock heading towards the false summit.
Jesse and I climbing through some of the larger rocks on the ridgecrest approaching the summit - photo by Kelly
John Staying on the Ridge before the False Summit - Photo by Dima
John working his way up the ridgecrest - photo by Dima
Trevor and Jesse on the ridge - photo by Kelly
Jesse and Kelly moving towards the blade rock
Dima getting ready to come up to the false summit if you do not stay on the ridge - Photo by John
Jason moving upwards with the summit drawing us onwards
After we hit the top of the false summit, Snowmass came into view. I started to get excited, as I knew this meant we were coming up on the real class 4 stuff. We made our way across the flats, but quickly found our way staring at a beautiful wall of broken slabs. Jason decided to take the class 3 option that would take im to the other side of the ridge, but was more then happy to let Jesse, Kelly and I hit the class 4 stuff. Kelly opted to go for the ridge proper, while Jesse and I hit the slabs. I went first, and found that the cracks in the rock provided perfect foot and hand holds. I reached the top of the slabs before I knew it, and turned to take a couple of shots of Jesse coming up. At the steepest section, her measured the rock at 68 degrees, so its stout, but the excellent hold make it the best pitch on the route in my opinion. Then you get the what I would consider the crux of the climb if you choose not to take the class 3 bypass.
Me and Kelly above at the top of the Class 4 slabs - Photo by Jesse
Looking down at Jesse coming up the Class 4 slabs
At the top of this section your options are limited, and all are very exposed. We opted to work our way around the right side of the ridge. You have to work hard to keep this class 4. In fact, we utterly failed to find the class 4 up climb to the notch as described in the trip reports we had read up to this point. Jesse squeezed through a small weakness to gain the upper ledge, while I found a brief exposed ledge that ended in one class 5 move that was extremely exposed. After that, the rest was tame. We looked down and saw Jason, now in view, slogging up the loose rock that makes the class 3 route. I worked my way up the remaining scrambling on the ridge to the top of the last large obstacle and waited for Jason to finish the class 3 section.
A photo of the section Jesse climbed with a view of the exosure when attempting to bypass the top to the class 4 slabs to the right - photo by Jesse
how I headed up to bypass the area in the photo above. I climbed a steep slab you can'tsee in the photo that is low class 5, exposed but not as ti
Dima climbing up the last little bit to get to the top of last large difficulty in the ridge - Photo by John
At this point, my insides were starting to really bother me again, in a way that was impossible to ignore. This distraction was not at all welcome as we finished the ridge. The 4 of us stayed on the ridge proper for the remainder of the route, as it looked much better in terms of stability then the track that we could see climbers left and about 40 feet below the ridge crest. This led to some interesting moves, that I was now struggling with given my divided attention, but we could see the summit! It was right there!
Jason Neg an exposed move as we get towards the top of the ridge
John on the upper section of the ridge - Photo by Dima
Dima downclimbing the last obsticle on the ridge. The exposure is crazy, but is hidden in the photo, this is a no fall zone - photo by John
About 200 vertical feet below the summit the difficulty and exposure evaporated, only to be replaced by the loose rock that makes up the summit. The only time the entire day I truly believed I was going to send man killers was 50ft below the summit when 3 boulders all shifted a full foot beneath me.
I was met at the summit by everyone but Jason, who we cheered on as he made his way up the last little bit. Paul had already headed down, but the rest of us commenced a brief party celebrating John accomplishment. Not a single person could think of a better route to finish the 14er's on! I hope I can finish in as good of form.
John popping the champagne cork on the summit block
Jesse on the summit with John and Kelly in the background
Kelly Jason and I on the summit - photo by John
Another in our group was now struggling in a big way with his stomach as well, and needed a brief rest, but it was getting late and we needed to head down. We left the summit just shy of noon, worried about the descent off the West Face.
I had heard rumors about this route. Horrible stories of car size boulders teetering sat in my head, and my stomach issues were not getting any better, which slowed my descent to what felt like a crawl. The other member of our party was in a similar boat, and I am reasonably sure that all either of us wanted as we started down was to get off the mountain. The descent sucked. The rocks were not nearly as bad as I expected if you were careful, tested every hold, and stepped softly. It seemed like the northern half of the face was more stable, and after about 300ft of descent, a faint trail appeared. None-the less, I found myself joking about the down climb, coming up with a blues song to keep the mood up. Personally, I think it worked, and the more descriptive it got, the more amused I was. Good times!
Jesse starting down the West Face loose rock nightmare
Jason working his way through the only path we could see with a path on the otherside, being careful not to step on plants
Everyone taking a break at the first possible break point on the West face - photo by John
looking back up at the Descent route - photo by John
Once we were down off the steepest section, just on the other side of the waterfall it was time for a well deserved rest. People were running low on water, so we made up some iodine H2O and passed it about before making it the rest of the way down to the trail on the other side of the stream crossing. At this point the group split by who needed to get down for reasons beyond our control. The other member of our party that was struggling had made his way ahead already in hopes of saving himself any more undue pain, a decision respected by all. I was forced to stop one more time, using the last of my resources and then made my way as fast as possible to the car, only stopping once to drink a little bit more of my remaining water supply and take one photo.
My one photo on the way out
John hiking out - photo by Dima
John saying goodbye to the wilderness his own way - photo by Dima
At the Jeep Jesse and I did our best to get everything organized and as we started moving it to the Trailhead, Kelly and Jason came into view. I don't think anyone was sad to be in a vehicle.
It was 6pm, and we all wanted to get home, so we opted to take the road out through Crystal. It was definitely rougher, but shorter and less exposed. We had to of saved 30 or more minuets going out the more direct route, even with our brief stop to take photos of the old mill ruins along the way.
Overall, this was an amazing route! I cannot say how happy I was to join John for his finisher, and we could not have asked for a better route up the mountain or better weather. If it were not for the West Face descent, I would absolutely climb this peak again!
a photo I took of the old mill on the drive out to Marble
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